The Ghoul (1933)
This is probably about as far back in time as this web site is ever going to go - and by the look of the surviving version of this 1933 "classic", that's no bad thing.
Apparently rescued from a skip somewhere in New York in 1969 (or something), the last print of Boris Karloff's The Ghoul (absolutely nothing to do with the 1975 film of the same name) is pretty much ruined by a combination of appalling quality and huge, swingeing cuts at the most inappropriate of moments. At one point everyone in a scene suddenly leaps across the room and a character responds to a statement never asked, by someone who hasn't spoken yet. Makes you wonder what he said, when the reposte is "I think you must be the rudest man I've ever met!"
There's also plenty of clipped, plummy accents and far too many shots of people standing around and waiting for their cues (the man with the scissors would have been put to far better use sorting them out, rather than butchering any scenes that might have featured any violence at one point. Horror? In a horror film? Perish the thought...)
But there are many saving graces, not least of which is the brittle and dark humour which pervades the entire production. The first words uttered, as a door is opened to a dodgy-looking Egyptian type, are "We don't want no lino or nothin'..." (well, it made me laugh), and there's a memorable exchange between the soon-to-snuff-it Karloff and his butler;
Butler: "You were always suspicious... have you never trusted a living soul?"
Karloff: "Only fools... I trust you."
The basic story revolves around Egyptologist Professor Morland (Karloff), who is dying. He entrusts his final wishes to his butler - he must be buried with his most prized possession, The Eternal Light. Only then can he gain eternal life. If the butler messes up, Morland promises that he will come back... to kill!
Can anyone else see a slight discrepancy here? If Morland can come back from the dead anyway, what's the problem?
Anyway, Morland shuffles off this mortal coil after a bit of "he's dead... no he isn't... yes he is..." etc and it's not long before the butler has purloined the Eternal Light.
He's soon joined by an assortment of the usual collection of untrustworthy Egyptians, an annoying-but-resourceful nephew, a surprisingly tough (for the time) niece and her friend.
At 48 minutes in (and it's been a long 48 minutes, let me tell you), Karloff wakes up in his tomb and sets off to recover the Light.
The Ghoul, despite its problems, is entertaining in a sort of masochistic way. The spooky, shadow-filled sets are at times too shadow-filled to see what's going on, and a predominance of ridiculous eyebrows makes it hard to tell who's who. But it has some nice twists at the end making it worth sticking with. There's also a couple of scenes which the censor didn't get his hands on which are worth a look - including a surprisingly gory bit where Morland cuts a pattern onto his chest with a knife.
It also has a couple of firsts - it's the first British film Karloff made, and the eagle-eyed amongst you can also spot a very young Ralph Richardson in his first screen role as a dodgy vicar.
Last updated: February 23, 2010
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